Dr Helen Street

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Revisiting Wellbeing as a System


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Contextual Wellbeing is a systems based approach to supporting equitable education, youth wellbeing and self-determination in all schools and colleges.

The Contextual Wellbeing model divides the school social context into four distinct domains: People (e.g. staff and students); physical space (e.g. classroom set-up, outdoor spaces); policies and practice (e.g. homework policy, behavioural management practices) and social norms (e.g. whether or not to trust others, how to treat others).

The model recognises that schools are social systems and as such, all members of the social context of the school are social beings, shaped by their community. People thrive in a healthy school context but struggle in an unhealthy one, no matter how much 'wellbeing & resiliency teaching' they are given.

The majority of schools currently have inequitable practices, stressed staff and a competitive focus. This means that only a minority thrive.

The Contextual Wellbeing model is concerned with the development of a school social context which is equitable and supportive of ALL members of that context and as such, enables everyone to flourish - academically, socially and emotionally, without the need for constantly gritted teeth or self-reflection.












People - e.g. school staff, students, parents and allied professionals. All members of a school community impact on the social context in terms of their values, attitude, skills and expressed behaviours. Attention paid to supporting autonomy, relatedness and competency can help all help members of the school community thrive (as per Deci and Ryan Self-Determination Theory). For example, socially competent staff with manageble levels of stress, and high levels of wellbeing will model positive behaviour to the entire class.

Physical Space - e.g. classroom and shared spaces, indoors and outdoors. The school physical environment is shaped by people and as such reflects the norms, values and ideals of the school community either openly or covertly. For example, a school reception that displays community photos gives out a very different message to one that displays trophies. In contrast, the power of nature to support student wellbeing and engagement in learning has been increasingly recognised.

Policy and Practice - e.g. behavioural management policy, rewards and awards, homework policy. The policy and practices held by a school shape the level of equity within that school in addition to supporting either a focus on process or on outcomes. Policies and practices dictate the importance placed on play and creativity, the value placed on competition and the need for control over cohesion and autonomy. For example, a school policy that does not include the use of rewards to motivate students is one that supports intrinsic motivation and equity far more than a policy that rewards the 'top' students and places everyone in a competitive hierarchy.

Social Norms - i.e. the unwritten rules that guide behaviour within the school community. Social norms stem from values and develop through repetition. Unhealthy social norms include locking bags and lockers as a sign of mistrust, talking in class and disrespecting teachers and seeing learning as a socially undesirable activity. In contrast, healthy social norms include being honest and trustworthy, being respectful to others and seeing learning engagement as a positive trait. Healthy social norms need to be actively and openly nurtured within the school community.

A school can develop a healthy social context with careful consideration of each of these four domains. In general terms, healthy contextual domains support social cohesion and the process of learning over and above competition and an outcome focus.

Download the Contextual Wellbeing brochure for a summary of the Contextual Wellbeing model. If you would like more information or support for your school's journey to Contextual Wellbeing please contact Dr Helen Street (via our contact page) directly.

Please note - Contextual Wellbeing is not an add on program or activity. It is an ongoing process towards building positive, equitable school communities where everyone has the opportunity to flourish.


E: Helen.Street at UWA.edu.au 
T:0011 61 (0) 8 – 9388 8843  F:0011 61 (0) 8 – 9388 8848